Three blondwood, circular tables joined together for the writing group. She had arrived earlier.
The tables faced two large plate glass windows that faced out on the street. What you saw right outside the window, across 7th Avenue, were green-lit neon letters that spelled, PITA. He had two coffees in front of him.
She said, “Is that your system?” She pointed at the two coffees and smiled. He had old, tired, blue eyes. He was a battered man.
He said, “No, I over-milk my coffees. I used to drink, but now the coffees give me a jolt. What they give me for one cup, it won’t contain the milk. So I ask for two. Then I distribute the coffee and the milk evenly. It’s that simple.”
“Oh, I thought there was some system you used.”
He considered she might be talking about something else but found this amusing, he just sat there looking out the window, waiting for the writing group to start.
Winston always arrived to the damned writing group damn early. A friend had found it on Craig’s List. Winston knew nothing about the internet.
But Winston knew he liked the group. He’d drive his gray Corolla along Coney Island Avenue from Avenue J, go right on Coney Island, past the mosques and the paint and hardware stores, swing around Bartel Pritchard Square, first having moved along the park-line on the south-western side, then park on 7th Avenue and walk the rest of the way.
There was the nice cafe.
She was present with a friend. It was only 6:30. They were having this chat. He was thinking: Did Bukowski parody Hemingway in the second paragraph of “Pittsburgh Phil and Company”?
Things about your warm pocket and the cold wind coming down from the snow-covered mountain at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Christ, it sounded like he was goofing around, and I know he read Ernie.
It was now early winter and the light went out much too soon. The friend down at the right began writing something in her journal.
“You could be great,” she whispered to him sharply.
He just stared at his coffee, looked at the PITA, then he mumbled, getting up all his courage: “I thought you said you couldn’t make it to this meeting. You were going to a concert. “
“Yeah,” Ana said, “but the plans changed.” Then she laughed.
Ana laughed again.
They sat at the third round table to the left. The friend with amazing black eyes sat two tables down, by herself, and drank Starbucks coffee. She scribbled furiously.
“You write some good shit,” she said, “about those bars.”
“There’s nothing I can do about not writing it,” he said. “It just presses into the memory like a nightmare.”
They said nothing.
She had cool, green cat’s eyes. She stared at him.
“Well, how do you get the line down?” she said.
“I would prefer to talk about coffee,” Winston whispered. “I discovered, at home, at some black, leather-covered, cheap COSTCO card table I had purchased, if you make a pot of regular, a good thermos-full, I’m talkin’ about, and you drink it long enough, that’ll aid the writing, the words’ll come bubblin’ up, just like the coffee when it perks.”
He sensed she wanted him to tell her something deeper.
“That,” he added, took a quick sip, “and don’t be afraid to write something foolish. When my wife was alive, I’d read all this stuff I wrote. She was a very prudish person. I’d stand up and read it to her. She couldn’t stand the mediocre stuff. But I used to tell her, Look, it’s written off the cuff. That’s how it’s done.”
The three round, blondwood tables were lined-up a little ways back from the plate glass. Three lounge chairs and a dark, square coffee table were in front of the group. The chairs had been empty, but now a middle-aged man and two younger women dressed in leather-fringed cowgirl shirts occupied them. A younger man in black chino pants dragged a chair from behind where they were and joined the new entrees in the Starbucks cafe.
Winston liked it better when he saw nothing in front of him.
Then the others joined the writing group at the three connected, round blondwood tables, and they began their start-up exercises.
I could be great! he thought.
“Did you say something to me?” she asked.
But he wondered what kind of sensitivity was there.
That was something to think about really late at night.
At a cluster of connected tables to the right, Winston observed a large group of men and women. Eight women, four men. He observed that five of the women were obese, and one was overweight. He’d made a commitment to observe things like that.
You give me what I needed, he wrote, as they continued their opening exercises.
“What?” she asked.
Winston turned his head back down towards his blue spiral notebook, staring at scribbles.